Love is a verb … and a noun

Love. Love is a verb. Love is a doing word. […]

Teardrop by Massive Attack

The opening lyrics of Teardrop by Massive Attack points to the verbal quality of ‘love’. What we call lemma or headwords in linguistics brings together meaning under one heading.

(1) He loves her.

make ‘love’ a verb. And the sentence

(2) ‘His love for her.’

turns ‘love’ into a noun.

Let me point out here that love “begins life” as a noun and, in fact, is turned into a verb in an act I call shall verbalisation. Pat Benatar famously sang

(3) Love is a Battlefield.

Clearly is talk of love as a thing in this usage.

But we can talk of love as an action as in

We love you. We love you. We love you. We’re going to do whatever it take to make you love me.

We Love You! by Regurgitator

I am not saying anything unusual. We do this so often that we almost do not notice it … almost. But let us take ‘run’. Run, like love, is both a verb and noun. But run is used more as a verb than love is (even though the strong collocation for love is as a verb ‘I love you’). Easiest is to look at example usages.

(4) He runs six miles everyday.
(5) The dog ran away again.

For (4) is a clearly a verb. In (5) run is part of the phrasal verb run away. But in

(6) The run is tomorrow.

it is a noun. And unlike love as a noun it can be specified by a determiner. When we try with

(7) The love of a mother for her child is unparalleled in the universe.

we must specify much more clearly. That is, love is a universal and a thing. So when Massive Attack sings love is a verb they want to highlight the fact that we sometimes forget that it has a verbal form, just as I am highlighting the fact run also has a nominal form, and that these forms tell us something about conceptualisation, and language.

Love and run are nouns (and they are verbs). But they are not things. My point is, conceptualisation is a tricky business that requires serious and careful study. As a child I was taught a noun is a person, place or thing. Later I was retaught to add ‘idea’ to the list definition. Much time was spent believing love and run were things. Often I must remind myself that ideas are not things even though they can both be nouns. Just because ‘run’ in

(8) The run was fun.

is given the determiner ‘the’ it does not make it a thing as ‘the’ in

(9) The car is in the driveway.

specifies a thing. That is the difference.

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